Tuesday, 29 May 2018
Matters of Public Importance
National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Bill 2018, National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2018; Second Reading
In noting my concerns about the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse redress scheme legislation, I point out that I have concerns about the support services being provided and the time limits, but I also have significant concern about the monetary limits. The National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Bill 2018 bill limits the redress available to survivors to a maximum of $150,000 to any one survivor. The royal commission recommended that the maximum amount payable to survivors should be $200,000 and the minimum should be $10,000, with the average payment being $65,000.
By accepting an offer for redress, a survivor will be signing away their right to pursue a claim for compensation against the institution. It is important that survivors are adequately remunerated through the redress scheme. Obviously, no amount of money will ever, ever repair the emotional damage done to survivors or go any way to regaining their stolen childhood or recovering the life opportunities that they have missed, but nevertheless money can help rebuild lives. This will be the one and only chance for these survivors to seek redress. I want to make sure it is adequate to rebuild their lives.
We're all aware of the horrific abuse that occurred in institutions that cared for child migrants, and we're also aware that abuse of children has occurred in immigration detention, but this bill limits the redress scheme to people who are living in Australia or are Australian citizens. It is unfair that survivors of child sexual abuse that occurred in Australia are not able to access the same redress scheme if they have returned to their country of birth and are no longer residing in Australia. So I call on the government to ensure that this group of survivors is also able to access the redress scheme.
The royal commission recommended that survivors who accept an offer under the redress scheme be able to access counselling for the rest of their lives, but the government bill only provides survivors with access to state-provided services for the length of the scheme or with a payment of up to $5,000 to put towards counselling. For survivors whose lives have been utterly shattered, who have had to face their tormenters to retell their stories and who will never truly get over the trauma that has been inflicted on them, the paltry provision of counselling in this bill is woeful. All of the elements of redress are important, but counselling needs to be ongoing to be of any utility at all. It is critical that the provision of counselling be addressed and revised urgently.
Survivors who have been led into criminality should not be denied access to redress. There is clear evidence that people with a history of childhood sexual abuse and trauma are more likely to be incarcerated later in life. Denying this group of survivors access to redress not only will deny them the ability to rebuild their lives but is likely to foster recidivism. Attorney-General Porter, I would suggest to you that this exclusion is cruel, short-sighted and unfair.
Although I have concerns about this bill, as I've outlined, a national redress scheme is crucial to the more than 60,000 survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. No amount of money can make up for the pain and trauma experienced by survivors, but redress is an important step along the road to healing for survivors of child sexual abuse. When the royal commission released their interim report in 2015, Labor was the first to announce support for a national redress scheme. It took the Turnbull government until 2016 to commit to a redress scheme. It is very encouraging that Queensland, Victoria, New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory have all publicly announced that they will participate in the national redress scheme. I encourage the three other jurisdictions to also sign up to the scheme. For survivors to obtain justice, the scheme must be a national scheme. I urge churches, charities, and other institutions to stand up and be counted and to opt into the redress scheme now. I urge the parishioners and supporters, people connected with these institutions, to tell them to sign up for the scheme now. Whatever has happened is in the past, but it must be remedied in the future, and the future must include a national redress scheme. Working together, Australia can move forward. We must not forget the past, obviously, but we must make sure it is never, ever repeated again, and that is a task for all of us.
Labor will work with the government to address these concerns, because a national redress scheme is so important, and it's important right now. The bills have been referred to a Senate inquiry. This inquiry will allow the community to be consulted on points of difference in these bills and the earlier Commonwealth legislation. The inquiry is due to report to the Senate before the Senate next sits. With the proposed start date of the bills being 1 July 2018, barely a month away, the Senate inquiry will not delay the start of the scheme. Labor fully understands the importance of a national redress scheme, so we will support this bill in the House and, as always, we will continue discussions with the government to resolve the concerns that we hold about these bills. A national redress scheme is too important to delay any further, and it is too important, equally, to get wrong.
So, to all of the survivors who had the courage to tell their stories and to sit in those rooms, both public and private, with the commissioners I say thank you. I will do all I can make to make sure the national redress scheme is the best that it can possibly be. To the commissioners and all their staff, I again say thank you. I would like to finish with the words of a survivor in a note sent to the royal commission so that the words of these courageous people who spoke up are the final words in my speech, because it is because of their courage that we have this legislation in front of the House right now:
Thank you for the opportunity to tell my story—you cannot know what it meant to be listened to with such respect and made to feel what happened to me really mattered. I hope my experience will help to promote the change needed to prevent this ever happening to another child.
The implementation of a national redress scheme for survivors of institutional child sexual abuse has been a long time coming for this country, as the member for Moreton outlined in his powerful address to the House today. Survivors of child sexual abuse have been waiting their whole lives for redress for the horrific crimes that were perpetrated against them as children. For decades they have suffered in silence, tormented by the truly awful acts committed against them over many, many years. We've heard it's a long road to recovery for these victims, but hopefully the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse will begin to heal the wounds that they have suffered.
I'm honoured to be a member of the joint select committee on the oversight of the implementation of redress-related recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, alongside my Labor colleagues the member for Newcastle and Queensland Senator Claire Moore and alongside other senators and members in this place. The national redress scheme is as a result of the royal commission into institutional responses, which the previous Labor government, as we heard, created in 2013. Over the subsequent five years, 16,953 people who were within the terms of reference contacted the royal commission. The commission heard from 7,981 survivors of child sexual abuse, in 8,013 private sessions. They received 1,344 written accounts and referred 2,562 matters to police. Every single one of those statistics matters because every single one of those people matters. These striking numbers only begin to scratch the surface, clearly, of just how big this issue is for thousands of Australians.
I want to sincerely thank each and every single survivor who shared their story. I can only imagine that this took an enormous amount of courage and composure. Words are simply not enough to describe the harrowing nature and the horror of the stories that came forward. The average age of victims when first abused was just 10 years old, with 85 per cent of survivors saying they'd experienced multiple episodes of abuse. But actions speak louder than words, and we now have an opportunity to address the many wrongs of the past.
The royal commissioners outlined a clear vision for what a national redress scheme would be in their final report on civil litigation and redress in 2015. Like many of the colleagues who have spoken in this debate already, I want to add my thanks to the commissioners and all of their staff—in particular their staff—for their careful and considered work over five years. I simply cannot imagine what it was like to be a staff member dealing with this important issue. We understand that they did not make these recommendations lightly.
I believe that the recommendations should be implemented faithfully and as much as possible. But, like my colleagues on this side of the House and as the Leader of the Opposition outlined last week, I do have a number of concerns with the legislation before the House—the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Bill 2018 and the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2018—as it's drafted. It is critical that any scheme provides survivors with the genuine opportunity to access justice and that it takes into account and caters for the unique needs of this group.
As we've heard, the bills have been referred to a Senate inquiry so that the community can be consulted on the points of difference in these bills and the earlier Commonwealth legislation. In the light of the proposed start date of 1 July 2018, this inquiry is due to report before the Senate next sits so that the inquiry does not delay the commencement of the scheme. As a gesture of good faith in our ongoing discussions with the government to resolve Labor's concerns and an acknowledgement of our longstanding commitment to the establishment of a redress scheme, Labor will support the bills in the House today. But, as we have heard, there is more work to be done, and it starts by working together. We know that the Victorian and New South Wales governments have already signed up to the redress scheme, with Tasmania also announcing their intention to join this week. I was particularly pleased to hear recently of my home state of Queensland also signing up to the scheme. That decision opens the door for Queensland based non-government institutions to join the redress scheme. In announcing that the Queensland government will pay its share to survivors of sexual abuse in government-run institutions, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said that it was an important milestone, acknowledging the suffering of those abused in care. As the Premier said, although no amount of money can return a lost childhood, it is important that we acknowledge what these victims have been through. Ten thousand Queenslanders are expected to be eligible: 5,000 abused in government institutions and another 5,000 in non-government institutions. It's certainly a step in the right direction, but, as I mentioned earlier and as other members of the opposition have indicated, we still have concerns with the bill as it stands.
As the redress scheme begins operation from 1 July this year, we must ensure there are enough support services for all survivors who are considering making an application for redress and that the services are accessible, no matter where the survivor lives or what language the survivor speaks. We simply can't be left in a situation where we have an unfunded and under-resourced scheme which has been such a long time coming. There can be no excuses that we did not know. We need to make sure that survivors have sufficient time to decide whether or not to accept an offer of redress. As we know, the bill gives applicants six months to make this decision, while the royal commission recommended a year. It's important that survivors have sufficient time to consider this decision, as only one application to the scheme is permitted. I think it's safe to say that for many this will be an emotional and overwhelming process and it will take time.
There's no policy rationale for rushing this process. Simply choosing to apply will mean many survivors will have to relive their horrific past as they recall the acts committed against them. This will no doubt have a heavy emotional burden and will result in some survivors needing extended time to make a decision. The bill places an upper limit, as we know, of $150,000 on the amount of redress that would be payable to any one survivor. The royal commission, as we have heard, recommended the maximum payment be $200,000, that the minimum payment be $10,000 and the average payment be around $65,000. Accepting an offer will also mean signing away any rights survivors may have to pursue their claim for compensation through litigation. There are heavy pressures we will be placing on already very vulnerable people.
The bill also limits eligibility to the redress scheme to people who are living in Australia or are Australian citizens. We know that horrific abuse occurred in institutions that cared for child migrants and that the abuse of children has occurred in immigration detention. I am concerned these people will not have access to redress if they have returned to their country of birth, and today I call on the government to confirm that provision will be made for these groups of survivors to access the national redress scheme.
I am also concerned that the counselling provided to survivors through the scheme will not be adequate. The royal commission recommended that people accessing the scheme be allowed counselling for the rest of their life. The bill only provides access to state provided services for a length of the scheme or a payment of only up to $5,000 towards counselling. These arrangements are woefully inadequate and I call on the government to give assurances that this will be addressed. Survivors often consider the government is responsible for the abuse and do not wish to use state or institution-run services. I really do think this needs to be taken into account by states when delivering services. Survivors who are granted redress late in the life of the scheme could also be disadvantaged because they will not be able to access services for the same length of time as survivors who are granted redress early in the life of the scheme. It's important that this is taken into account in any future reviews. For survivors that receive the $5,000 payment, this amount of money will not provide adequate access to support.
The government has sought to place restrictions on survivors who themselves have a criminal history from accessing the redress scheme. We believe this is deeply unfair. This would require those who have been sentenced to a term of imprisonment of five years or more to request special permission from the scheme operator to access the scheme. The rule ignores strong evidence that shows that people with a history of childhood abuse and trauma are more likely to be incarcerated later in life. The facts on this matter cannot and should not be ignored. For many, the root of their problems will be an horrific experience they suffered as a child and which clearly led them to a life of crime. To punish them unfairly now would be only to further deepen their already traumatic wounds.
In closing, there is no excuse for any state government, church, institution or non-government organisation not to join the redress scheme. With only a matter of weeks until the proposed 1 July start date, Labor urges all states and institutions to sign up to the scheme as soon as possible. Survivors of institutional child sex abuse have been waiting for redress for decades. They shouldn't have to wait any longer.
Redress means so much more to the 60,000 survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. I understand that no money can make up for the pain and trauma experienced by survivors. However, redress is a vital step along the path to healing for survivors of child sexual abuse. I believe it's incumbent upon all of us in this parliament to work together on further improvements to ensure we get the best possible redress scheme for survivors. I want to make it clear today that I will continue to work with the states and my colleagues towards making sure we address the issues of concern that I've identified today.
Once we've got the agreement in place and once all the states, churches and other institutions have signed up to an agreement, I believe only then may we have an opportunity in the future for us to build on this and for us to do much more as part of the healing process.
I rise to speak on the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sex Abuse Bill 2018.
Any instance of child abuse is a vile and evil thing.
… too many children have suffered child abuse.
We knew Prime Minister Gillard was correct. She continued:
They have also seen other adults let them down.
They’ve not only had their trust betrayed by the abuser, but other adults that could have acted to assist them have failed to do so.
Prime Minister Gillard and the Labor Caucus understood the importance of finally giving these people a voice:
There have been revelations of child abusers being moved from place to place rather than the nature of their abuse and their crimes being dealt with.
There have been too many revelations of adults who have averted their eyes from this evil.
The commission received 41,770 calls, 25,770 letters and emails, held more than 8,000 private sessions and 57 public hearings, and made nearly 2,600 referrals to police and other authorities. Thousands of brave and courageous individuals shared thousands of brave and courageous conversations, many of them for the first time.
The sharing of these conversations, experiences and stories saved lives. The commission heard of experiences from over many decades from people with disabilities; from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; from people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds; and from those who were in prison at the time of their abuse.
The inquiry lasted five years and was recorded in the 17 volumes of the final report. Many people, as I said, were speaking for the first time. The report produced a range of recommendations, including providing victims and survivors with access to the appropriate support and treatment; reducing the stigma of child sex abuse; encouraging victims to speak out and seek support and treatment; and promoting best practice in providing treatment and support services.
No amount of money can ever repair the pain and hurt inflicted. I know everyone has said that in this debate. But it is also clear that these crimes cannot go unacknowledged and uncompensated. Redress is a vital step in the journey towards healing, and everyone—every single member of this chamber and this House—understands that.
It was clear that many victims and survivors were in need of a great deal of support and treatment. However, it is also clear that victims and survivors were simply not accessing compensation. They were either reluctant or otherwise unlikely to pursue compensation through the courts system. Survivors were less inclined to want to relive their experiences and traumas in the public hearings. Furthermore, the prospects of a successful claim for compensation were also not guaranteed. In many instances and especially with the passage of time, there would be great difficulty in collecting evidence or making contact with witnesses, let alone perpetrators. It was a very, very brave thing for people to give evidence. The capacity for perpetrators to provide for compensation was uncertain, and the liability of institutional entities for perpetrators was also unclear. Without redress schemes, many victims would simply not have the opportunity to access monetary compensation in relation to their injuries, whether physical, emotional of, of course, psychological.
Today I rise to acknowledge the injustices and hurts committed on the watch of various state, territory and federal governments and many church and other institutions. I rise today to acknowledge the victims and survivors who participated in this inquiry. I rise to support them, and I rise to support this bill.
The scheme provides three elements of redress, in the form of a redress payment, counselling and psychological services, and a direct personal response from the institutions. Survivors will be provided with access to legal advice services. The scheme will cover sexual abuse and any related non-sexual abuse that occurred when the person was a child and where an institution is primarily or equally responsible for that abuse. The intention of this payment is to recognise the wrong that person suffered, to acknowledge that trauma and to listen to the truth. Access to counselling or psychological services is intended to enable survivors to access trauma-informed and culturally appropriate counselling or psychological services. Survivors will also have the opportunity, if they wish, to receive a direct personal response from the participating institution responsible for that abuse. The survivor will have the chance to have their abuse acknowledged and tell their personal story of the abuse they suffered and the impact on them. This, to me, is the most important aspect of this scheme.
I want to take a moment to briefly discuss the significance of the scheme for First Nations people. The disproportionate impact of abuse on First Nations peoples was explored by the inquiry in its final report. The inquiry found:
… Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are significantly overrepresented in out-of-home care and youth detention, exposing them to environments with greater risk. Racism and lack of cultural safety can also increase Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children's vulnerability and prevent them from speaking out.
It also said First Nations people were placed at significantly greater risk of abuse because of disproportionately greater prevalence of removal from family. It is clear that the consequences of abuse were compounded by, as the inquiry states, the impacts of colonisation, past social policies and the legacy of the stolen generations. First Nations people were placed at greater risk of abuse by reason of racism, denigration of identity and culture, and the destruction of language and intergenerational trauma. The stigma of sexual abuse further perpetuated the disconnection from family, community, cultural traditions and country. The inquiry found that widespread institutionalisation of children fractured whole communities, disrupting relationships and traditional ways of healing. The report also discussed the cultural base barriers inhibiting disclosure and seeking support. Survivors often said they tried to disclose during childhood but were ignored, dismissed or punished. These experiences meant that many First Nations survivors simply could not trust police, government and people in leadership positions. Many institutions simply did not respect, recognise or acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.
But the report also made a finding about the importance of culture and identity in the healing process. The royal commission found that being strong in culture is protective for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children's wellbeing because it can support strong identity, high self-esteem and strong attachments. Strong cultural identity, positive community connections and connections to culture are strong sources of resilience and healing. It is difficult to ignore how the issues of institutionalised child abuse and the removal of First Nations children are inextricably linked.
Before closing I, as have other members of this side of the House, will briefly reiterate our areas of concern, which have previously been outlined primarily by the member for Jagajaga but by other people making a contribution as well. Firstly, we want to make sure there are enough support services for all survivors of child sexual abuse and that they are accessible, no matter where the survivor lives. The bill also limits eligibility to the redress scheme to people who are living in Australia or Australian citizens. We know that horrific abuse occurred in institutions that cared for child migrants, and that abuse of children has occurred in immigration detention.
Secondly, we want to make sure the survivors have sufficient time to decide whether or not to accept an offer of redress. Accepting an offer will also mean signing away any rights that survivors may have to pursue their claim for compensation through litigation. This is a very major decision. We are also concerned that the counselling provided is not adequate. The royal commission recommended, as other members have said, lifelong access to counselling, but this bill provides only $5,000 worth of counselling. We believe the government's placement of restrictions on the ability of survivors with a criminal history, primarily people in jail, to access the redress scheme is absolutely wrong. This ignores the evidence showing that people with a history of childhood abuse and trauma are more likely to be incarcerated later in life. This part of the bill must be changed.
In conclusion, I take a few moments to recall my personal involvement with people who have been brave enough to give their story. Almost a decade ago in the Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney as the then Minister for Community Services I led the state government's apology to the forgotten Australians. I also, along with many other people, was here in 2008 when Kevin Rudd gave his apology to the stolen generations. I was also here in the federal parliament when the apology was given to the forgotten Australians. You were in the presence of people that you knew had such a generosity, such a desire to heal and such a spirit that had been damaged as children, and you could see it in the faces of the people that participated in those apologies. You could also see resilience, pride and an absolute understanding that their stories, their experiences and their reality—their lives—were finally being acknowledged by all people in this country. They are extraordinarily powerful moments and things to do.
I thank the survivors for sharing their stories. I thank the tremendous staff of the royal commission, who assisted and supported survivors in what must have been an incredibly difficult process that I know many people thought long and hard about. I thank former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, former Attorney-General Nicola Roxon and the member for Jagajaga, as well as members of the government, for their tireless work in making redress a reality. All members from both sides of the House spoke with heart on this bill. The bill is the final product of many and will mean so much to many. We will continue to have discussions of the concerns we have outlined about this bill, but for now I commend this bill to the House, particularly on behalf of the many thousands of people who made submissions and gave testimony both in private and in public. It is their strength, their honesty and, above all, their bravery to share their stories that has lifted a lid on an incredibly ugly part of the Australian narrative. To them I dedicate the words that I say today.
We tell our kids that monsters don't exist, but that's a lie—they do exist. We have always known it. We have just chosen to ignore it or pretended that they're not there hiding in the darkness and in places that most people never see. But we can't do that anymore because the royal commission has dragged some of these vampires out into the sunlight.
Stan was 12 when one of these monsters arrived at the Christian Brothers orphanage in 1953. His name was Brother Benton. A couple of weeks after he arrived he started raping Stan. Sometimes he raped him three times a week. That lasted for two years. Just try to imagine that. Just try for a minute to imagine the trauma that that little boy suffered for all that time and that as a man he still suffers to this day.
It took Stan 59 years to tell anyone what had happened to him. A few years ago he told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. He never told the other boys at the orphanage what was happening to him. He never knew what was happening to them as well, but now he does. The same thing was happening to them. Two of them have since committed suicide.
There are thousands and thousands of stories like this—children raped and tortured by monsters in shepherd's clothing. No amount of money can compensate you for that. It can't repair the damage that they did to Stan. What could? But that's not a reason not to do it. Getting the governments, the churches and the organisations that allowed this to happen to pay for what they have done—to pay for what happened under their roofs—is the very least that we can do. And that's what the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Bill 2018 and related bill do. They set up a redress scheme, a compensation scheme, for people like Stan. It is the key recommendation of the royal commission.
These bills don't do everything that the royal commission recommended, and I'm disappointed by that. The amount that you can claim is less than what the royal commission recommended. The amount of time you have to accept an offer is also less than what the royal commission recommended. It also doesn't implement the royal commission's recommendation that people like Stan have lifelong access to counselling services. The legislation is not perfect and it's not the way that we would have done it, but I'm not going to use my time in this debate picking apart what we are about to vote on. We can't amend it here without unravelling the agreements that the government has already struck with the states, and I don't want to do that. I don't think anybody wants to do that. We all want this scheme to start as soon as possible.
Instead, let me thank the people who have got us this far. I want to thank Justice McClellan and the six other royal commissioners for the time, dedication and professionalism that they took to this task. I want to thank them for the recommendations that they have given us and, most importantly, for making sure that so many people so silent for so long were finally heard—heard and believed. I want to thank Stan and the more than 75,000 other people who mustered the courage to tell their story. The royal commission would have failed without them.
I want to thank the member for Jagajaga, Jenny Macklin. I know a lot of people in this debate have mentioned Jenny and the work that she has done. It is impossible to thank her enough. And I want to thank Julia Gillard. I feel very sure in saying that there wouldn't have been a royal commission without either of them. Without Jenny or Julia we wouldn't be here today setting up this scheme.
And I want to thank someone who hasn't been mentioned in this debate so far but really should be. Her name is Joanne McCarthy. Joanne is a journalist at the Newcastle Herald. She's no ordinary journalist. She is a Gold Walkley winner. She won that award for the more than 1,000 stories she wrote that exposed what happened in the Maitland-Newcastle diocese over so many years. She's everything that any young journalist would hope to be. She's fearless and unrelenting. She earned the trust of people like Stan, who had no reason to ever trust anyone ever again, and she inspired a Prime Minister to act. On her last night as Prime Minister, the last letter that Julia Gillard wrote was to Joanne McCarthy and it was to thank her for everything that she'd done. I was there the night that Joanne McCarthy won her gold Walkley and I remember what she said to the audience. She said: 'It just shows you don't need an army, you just need people believing that something had to be done …' Joanne McCarthy is one of those people.
Twenty-six years ago, another extraordinary woman named Joanna Penglase put an ad in 21 local papers across Sydney. She was doing a thesis at university and was reaching out to other people like her who'd grown up in homes and institutions and orphanages and asked them to ring her and tell her their story. A lot of people rang. One of the people that picked up the phone and rang Joanna was a middle-aged mum from Georges Hall in my electorate. Her name is Leonie Sheedy. Leonie called Joanna and it was a phone call that changed both their lives. Joanna still remembers the phone call. Leonie said to her 'How come nobody's talking about this? How come we never hear about it? Why isn't it known?' It's known now and that's due, in large part, to the work of Joanna and Leonie because they set up an organisation called CLAN—Care Leavers Australasia Network—an organisation dedicated to fighting for people like Stan, fighting for recognition, fighting for justice, fighting for an apology, fighting for compensation. Just to give you an idea about what these two women have achieved over that time, in 2003 they fought for and got the Senate to conduct an inquiry into children in institutional care. In 2010, they fought for and they got an apology from the Prime Minister of Australia at the time, Kevin Rudd, the then Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull and the Australian parliament.
Leonie is still fighting today. If you look carefully at the TV footage of the royal commission over the last five years or so, you'd often see Leonie out the front of the royal commission, not inside of it, with other members of CLAN emblazoned in their blue and gold outfits, making sure that everybody inside the royal commission knew that their job was to make sure that justice was done. And she's still fighting today to get South Australia and Western Australia to sign up to this scheme that we're legislating right here. She's still fighting to make sure that all the churches and all the organisations responsible for what happened sign up to this scheme as well, and to make sure that in the future this legislation is fairer and better than it is now and as good as it should be. There's only one Leonie Sheedy—anybody who knows Leonie Sheedy knows that. Like my good friend in this place, Richard Marles, we're privileged to call her our friend.
A few weeks ago, Leonie's office in Bankstown was robbed. The robbers stole eight laptop computers, some money and a bunch of other stuff. Leonie put out a tweet telling the world what had happened, that the CLAN office had just been robbed. Soon after that, she got a call from Channel 10. They wanted to know what had happened. And that night on the news, they did a big story about a robber in the middle of the night coming in and stealing all of this equipment from people who had dedicated their lives to looking after people who'd grown up and been neglected, abused and who had suffered so much in Australia's orphanages. A few days after that story appeared on the Channel 10 news, the eight laptops were back. When Leonie's team turned up at work, they found eight laptops in a gym bag near the garbage bins just out the front of the office. I like to think that the person who robbed the office saw that story on Channel 10 that night and realised who he'd robbed, an organisation that does so much good for people who've already been robbed of so much. Maybe he grew up in an orphanage as well. Maybe he's got a similar story to Stan or Leonie or Joanna or so many others—I don't know.
But I do know this: this legislation is long overdue. It won't help every person who grew up in institutions, neglected and abused. It won't heal wounds that can't heal. It's too late for too many people who died waiting for something like this to happen, but at least it's here now. To you, Leonie: I know it's not good enough, but at least we're here, and we wouldn't be here without you. All those thousands of people like Stan, so wronged as children, so haunted for so long by monsters that we told them didn't exist, are fortunate that a little girl, left alone in a cold, damp orphanage in Geelong, who suffered so much, grew up to be so strong and never forgot and never gave up.
Finally we are taking a fundamental step towards justice for the victims of child sexual abuse. These are abhorrent crimes committed on defenceless children like Stan, who we just heard about from the member for Blaxland. I'm saddened, though, that it has taken us this long. The time to act is long overdue. If we consider that children are our most vulnerable members of our communities, we as adults should be taking every measure to ensure that our kids grow up safe and secure, regardless of who's looking after them.
Labor has always been supportive of this national redress scheme for survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. The sexual abuse of children is a terrible crime, and we are committed to providing survivors with the genuine opportunity to access justice for the crimes that were committed against them as defenceless little children. It has taken far too long for this government to get this far in the redress scheme, and it is sorely overdue.
I'd like to thank the member for Jagajaga, Jenny Macklin, for her leadership and her advocacy—in fact, not just on this but on many of the things that she's done in this place that have made a real difference in peoples' lives.
On 12 November 2012, the then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, announced the decision to establish the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. I, along with many on this side of the House, will be forever grateful for that decision. Whilst it will always be a blight on our nation's character to hear the stories of those children who suffered, their stories deserve to be aired, to have the daylight shone on them and grown-ups to be held to account. She stated:
The allegations that have come to light recently about child sexual abuse have been heartbreaking …
… These are insidious, evil acts to which no child should be subject. The individuals concerned deserve the most thorough of investigations into the wrongs that have been committed …
… They deserve to have their voices heard and their claims investigated.
Prime Minister Gillard believed that a royal commission was the best way to do this. It was the Gillard Labor government that created the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in 2013. This is the exact kind of thing that a royal commission ought to be used for.
The royal commission gave the victims of child sexual abuse hope that they could have a future in which they can move on from the past where they were wronged. The royal commission held 56 public hearings over 444 days across a five-year period. Well over 1,600 individuals contacted the Royal Commission, with evidence coming from more than 1,300 witnesses. The commissioners, six in all, held almost 8,000 private sessions to listen to the personal accounts of survivors. More than 1,000 survivors provided a written account of their experience. More than 680 people worked for the royal commission during its life, and I'd like to thank everybody involved, the commissioners and their staff, for their careful and considered work over their five-year period. Those figures, those numbers, are simply staggering.
I'd like to thank also the thousands of courageous survivors who shared their stories with the royal commission. They stood up and they told their story, which took great courage and determination. I thank them all. And I thank all those people involved, because hearing those stories would not have been easy.
Institutional child sexual abuse has been occurring for generations, across many decades, and has affected the lives of far too many people. Survivors of child sexual abuse have been waiting their whole lives for someone to take accountability for what was done. To provide redress for the horrific crimes that were perpetrated against them is only one part of the story. We know how important it is for more than 60,000 victims to access the redress scheme. We understand, though, that no amount of money can make up for the pain and the trauma they have experienced. However, redress is an important step along the road to healing.
In 2015 the royal commission made an interim recommendations that a national redress scheme be operational by July last year, with Labor being the first major party to support the national redress scheme. Sadly, the Liberals did not commit to the redress scheme until 2016. The commissioners outlined a very clear vision for what a national redress scheme should be in their final report on civil litigation and redress in 2015. The commissioners called for justice for victims. They said:
A process for redress must provide equal access and equal treatment for survivors—regardless of the location, operator, type, continued existence or assets of the institution in which they were abused—if it is to be regarded by survivors as being capable of delivering—
some kind of justice, however overdue. We understand they did not make these recommendations lightly. Labor believes that these recommendations should be implemented faithfully as much as is possible. For too long, society has turned a blind eye to the survivors' daily struggle, and this is to our collective and immense shame.
We recognise that establishing a national redress scheme is a complex task. This redress scheme will be managed by the Secretary of the Department of Social Services as the scheme operator. The elements of redress under this scheme are the monetary payment, access to counselling and psychological services, and the opportunity to receive an apology from a representative of the institution responsible for the abuse. To be eligible to receive redress, applicants must have suffered sexual address as a child that is within the scope of the scheme before the scheme's start date.
We do, however, have a number of concerns with the legislation as it is drafted, and it is critical that these issues be addressed urgently. As a result of these concerns, we have referred these bills to a Senate inquiry so the community can be consulted on the points of difference in these bills and the earlier Commonwealth legislation. As the proposed state date of the scheme is 1 July, this inquiry is due to report before the Senate next sits, as the inquiry should not delay the commencement of the scheme at all.
The commissioners recommended that the appropriate level of monetary payments under a redress should be a minimum payment of $10,000, a maximum of $200,000 for the most severe cases, and an average payment of $65,000. This bill places an upper limit of $150,000 on the amount of redress that will be payable to a survivor. This cap is not what the royal commission, after five years, had recommended.
This bill gives the applicants only six months to make a decision, while the royal commission has recommended a year, after five years of work. We cannot see a policy rationale for rushing the decision of survivors and victims. We need to make sure that survivors have sufficient time to decide whether or not to accept an offer of redress. Accepting an offer will mean signing a deed of release and waiving their civil rights against the responsible institution, and this is not a decision that we should ask people to take lightly, especially the victims and the survivors. Applicants who accept an offer of redress will also receive financial advice.
We are very concerned that the counselling provided to survivors through the redress scheme will not be adequate. The royal commission recommended that recipients of redress be able to access counselling for the rest of their lives. Imagine having an abhorrent sex crime committed against you as a child and then being told that you have a time limit in which you should get over it. The bill only provides access to counselling services for the length of the scheme or a payment to the amount of $5,000. These arrangements are inadequate and need to be addressed. We need to make sure that there are enough services to support the survivors who are considering making an application for redress and that they are accessible no matter where the survivor lives or what language the survivor speaks.
Furthermore, the bill limits eligibility for the redress scheme for people who are living outside Australia or not Australian citizens. We are very concerned that people who were abused as child migrants in immigration detention will not be able to access redress if they have returned to their country of birth. We call on the government to confirm that provision will be made for these groups of survivors to access the national Redress Scheme, because what kind of a cruel lot are they to determine that a sex crime against a child migrant be treated any differently to that of a non-migrant child? To me, that sounds like blatant discrimination. You're either admitting there was a wrong and you are committed to fixing it, or you are not; you cannot pick and choose. The children didn't have a choice and this government shouldn't either. It is critical that the national Redress Scheme provides survivors with a genuine opportunity to access justice and that it takes into account and caters for the unique needs of this group.
The Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee conducted an inquiry into the two bills that were before the Senate to establish the Commonwealth Redress Scheme for Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse, and their report was delivered earlier this year. Additional comments were made by Labor Party senators, including recommendations that the bill be amended to restore the maximum cap to $200,000 and to specify that survivors be given a year to decide whether to accept the offer of redress, and that survivors of institutional child sex abuse be eligible for redress, including those who do not live in Australia and those with criminal convictions, as recommended by the royal commission.
This last recommendation points to another area of concern that we have with this bill. The government has sought to place restrictions on accessing the redress scheme for survivors who themselves have a criminal history. I believe, and Labor believes, that this is deeply unfair. This rule ignores strong evidence that shows that people with a history of childhood abuse and trauma are more likely to be incarcerated later in life. Where does this government get off? As a child, if you lived through having a trusted adult who perpetrated horrific crimes against you, would you somehow grow up into a nice, normal, well-rounded individual without any issues? We know that this is simply not the case, as the member for Barton already pointed out. The statistics that back this up are well-known and well published, but, more than that, it is common sense.
This government's version of redress says that those victims who have been sentenced to a term of imprisonment of five years or more have to have special permission from the scheme operator to access the scheme. We believe that this policy should be changed. The royal commission has made clear that sexual abuse of children is not just a problem from the past; it has a hangover that goes well into generation after generation. It has devastating, life-long consequences, including interactions with the justice system.
It is now, though, encouraging to see that Victoria, New South Wales, the ACT, the Northern Territory and Queensland have publicly announced that they will participate in the national Redress Scheme. We call on the states and territories, churches, charities and other institutions and ask them to now opt into the Redress Scheme.
Whilst we look back and thank the victims of these crime for their courage in telling their stories, we must also look to the future, something I believe the survivors would strongly agree with. We must never allow the abuse of children to be covered up or for people to hide in places of plain sight. Changes are needed in the culture, the structure and the governance practices of many institutions. Our task is to now bring about change so that every Australian child can enjoy a safe childhood free of abuse. Survivors now, though, need justice and they need redress, and we need to ensure the safety of our children for future generations.
It is incumbent on all in this parliament to work together on further improvement to ensure we get the best possible redress scheme for survivors whilst ensuring that we learn from the past and change practices for the future. The Commonwealth must work with the states and institutes to complete the national redress. For too long, the survivors of institutional child sexual abuse weren't believed, for too long they've waited for justice, and we must do everything we can to ensure that what has happened in the past is never allowed to happen again. I dedicate my words here today to the future generations, and during my time here I commit to doing all I can to ensure that this isn't repeated. I again thank those who bravely and courageously opened old wounds, opened boxes of buried memories, and told their stories.
I started reading the report into institutional child sexual abuse, and I wouldn't recommend that people read it in full; it's an incredibly harrowing read, and most of us would stop quite early in the piece. But the thing you do notice, when you live in Parramatta, is the number of times the word Parramatta appears, perhaps more than any other place name in the report.
There is a group of women in our community who know absolutely why that is the case. And I think it's an indication of how long the whole issue of institutional child sexual abuse has been swept under the rug that most of us in Parramatta don't know that those Parramatta girls are still among us in Parramatta and that they were the victims of one of the most horrendous cases of institutional child abuse in the country. It was, of course, at what we now know as the Parramatta Girls Home that these women, as children, were incarcerated in one of the worst institutions when it came to sexual, physical and mental abuse of children.
Those women have been fighting for over a decade to preserve the site of their childhood torture as a site of conscience—a place that documents the reality of our history, a place of commitment to our children, a public statement that it will never happen again. Through the work of those women, and Bonnie Durack in particular, an application for national heritage listing was submitted in 2011, and they saw it come to pass in 2017. They've been coming together as the Memory Project since 2012, looking for recognition of their story and the story of all the women and girls involved, in the establishment of a site of conscience around the very place where they were imprisoned as children, the Parramatta Girls Home. They launched in 2012, and the Memory Project has enabled the Parramatta girls to supplant isolation, shame and silence with shared memory, creativity and social gathering. They have a simple message for us: agency for them is crucial to the activation of this institutional precinct as a site of conscience. That means first and foremost that those who experienced injustice—its former occupants—are empowered to determine how we remember the past and how to use it to build a better present and future. In the last couple of years we have seen state government plans to sell off the very ground on which these buildings stand. These women fought so hard to stop that, and now, with the heritage listing and a change in the government's plans for the immediate precinct, they are at least on their way to having this location recognised as a national site of conscience, as I, as their representative, believe it should be.
The Parramatta Girls Home, as it's now known, has an extraordinary history. It traces the history of the incarceration of women and girls for almost 200 years. It was originally opened in 1841 as the Roman Catholic Orphan School. Children of the female convicts who were taken from their parents almost at birth would stand on the balcony looking down into the courtyard where the women were, trying to work out who their mum was. So, right from an early time, the building has a history of incarceration. In 1887 it became the Industrial School for Girls, then in 1925 the Parramatta Girls Training School, then in 1961 the Parramatta Girls Home. It was closed in 1974 and then became the Girls Childrens Home until 1983. So it's essentially been a place for the incarceration of girls since 1841. It has an extraordinary history. There were violent riots in 1887, 1890, 1898, 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1945, 1946, 1953, 1954 and 1961.
It was a place of appalling stories. If you ever sit down and talk to some of the women and girls who are prepared to share their stories, you know that dreadful stories came from this place. There was rape, there was the turning of blind eyes and there was usually no consequences for the rapist. At best, they were suspended, but there was punishment for the child who objected. There was punishment for the person who told the truth. They weren't allowed to talk to each other for more than 10 minutes a day. There was no speaking unless spoken to with the staff. There was no privacy: they were always watched, including by male staff, including in the showers and on the toilets. They weren't allowed to turn their backs while in the showers. They were made to sleep on their side with their faces to the door; they weren't allowed to turn over in bed. They were punished with food deprivation, beatings, scrubbing of concrete floors for hours and being put in isolation cells for up to 21 days without a bed, a bucket or a chair. Sometimes in those cells they were stripped of all clothing and repeatedly raped, in many cases by two of the superintendents. In some cases they were punched in the stomach to bring on a miscarriage if found to be pregnant. They had invasive medical procedures. They were strip-searched by male staff and sexually abused by other children.
It was known as the 'home for wayward girls' when I first moved to Parramatta about 15 or 16 years ago. It's an astonishingly beautiful building with beautiful balconies, and it was known as the 'home for wayward girls'. It's worth just dwelling on that for a minute, because the children who were put in these homes were put there because they were at risk. A neglected child was defined as one who was destitute or had no visible means of support; who was ill-treated; whose parents weren't exercising proper care or were unfit to do so; who, without lawful excuse, did not attend school regularly; or were falling into bad associations and exposed to moral danger.
The vast majority of children who went into the Parramatta Girls Home in all its iterations were in fact children who were there for welfare reasons, because they weren't cared for by the people who should have been caring for them. Many of them had already been sexually abused or physically abused by family members, and they found themselves in a place, once again, where they were essentially imprisoned until the day they turned 18. There's a giant sandstone fence around that compound. They were in that place and they didn't go outside; they stayed there until the day they turned 18, when they were dumped at a place we used to know as the People's Palace in Sydney. Essentially, they were left there with just the clothes on their back at the age of 18. They had no experience of the world, they had a history of being physically, sexually and mentally abused and they were required to fend for themselves. There was no state support.
It's worth noting too that many of the stolen generation, the Indigenous community who were taken from their parents, were put here as well. In the Bringing them home report the inquiry noted that the definition and interpretation of the key terms of the Child Welfare Act adversely affected Indigenous families. It said:
'Neglect' was defined to include destitution and poverty …
A large of the stolen generation in New South Wales ended up in the Parramatta Girls Home and experienced the same punitive conditions that I described earlier.
The impact on these children was quite severe, as you would imagine. These were children who didn't know love, they didn't know friendship, they were unable to even develop relationships within the Girls Home because of the rule that they couldn't speak to each other for more than 10 minutes a day. They suffered incredible abuse, and when they were released they received no support. Several witnesses gave evidence that they became homeless and turned to prostitution on release. They had no money; they had no clothes, only what they wore; they had no skills because they hadn't been educated. The state claimed at the time that they were too old for education, but actually they arrived at the Parramatta Girls Home as young as the age of eight. But they received no education.
One witness said she went in an innocent girl and left a dangerous and uncontrollable criminal. She had only learnt two things: how to use her sexuality to live and that if she was good to men she'd be rewarded. She was homeless and worked as prostitute in Kings Cross to support herself. With no education these children struggled to adapt to life outside the institution, and many still face psychological issues today. I'm not going to name the incredibly brave witnesses who gave evidence to the royal commission—they are in the report; I'm going to refer to them as witness 1, witness 2 et cetera. Witness 1 has ongoing psychological trauma, including problems with her sex life and her bowels. The smell of faeces affects her, and she dreads using any toilet that's not her own. She has flashbacks, she's never had counselling for fear that it would drag up worse memories and she believes the sadness will never go away. Witness 2 is still burdened by the fear of Parramatta girls. She doesn't trust men, and her experiences have severely affected her self-worth. She vomits when she thinks about the abuse and feels she's been left with a legacy that will never go away.
Witness 3 feels like she's been in prison since she left Parramatta girls. She does not trust anyone and has nightmares about Superintendent Gordon. Witness 4 has suicidal thoughts because she could not talk about her experiences. She believes that people do not want to know about what happened. She fears people and does not go out. Witness 5 has been claustrophobic since Parramatta girls and fears closed doors. She's a nervy person who watches everything and walks close to walls so that people cannot approach her from behind. The sound of keys rattling reminds her of Superintendent Gordon. Witness 6 has had ongoing problems with sex. Talking about sexual positions with her husband makes her feel ill. Locked doors trigger bad memories. She won't go to venues like clubs if she cannot see a way out. She's now in her 60s and the impact of abuse still takes over her life. Another has suffered depression throughout her life and has needed medication for it. Yet another has nightmares that are only cured by heavy medication. She's been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Another suffers from traumatic flashbacks and has depression. With no self-confidence or self-esteem, she does not trust anyone and does not take criticism well. Medical tests make her anxious and she does not like being examined by male doctors. Yet another was committed to a psychiatric hospital after attempting suicide. She has self-mutilated to relieve the pain.
I could go on, because there are many more stories of what childhood sexual abuse has left these survivors with. I know many of them in my electorate of Parramatta. I organised a bus—a big bus, actually—to drive a whole group of them down for the apology. I picked them up at the Parramatta Girls Home and dropped them off there later that night. But there were some who even then couldn't come. They wanted to come; they couldn't face it. And there will be many even now, when this redress scheme unfolds, who will need time to come to terms with what it means for them. I would ask the government to consider the time frame they've put on this—that is, that the bill gives applicants six months to make their decision. The royal commission recommended a year. I would go further than that, having known so many of these women for so long, in that the decision that these women make should take place in the survivor's time frame, not that of the government. It should take place in their time frame.
Labor has a number of concerns about the redress scheme. It's been our policy since 2015. I would say one slightly partisan thing, which is I'm really sorry that it's taken this long. We've known it should be done and we've ignored these children—now women—for far too long. We shouldn't have ignored them since 2015 but we did. But we have a number of concerns about the redress scheme as it stands. We're going to support it because it's really important that it starts, but I want to make the following points.
The first is that the decision should be made in the survivor's time frame, as I've just said. The bill places an upper limit of $150,000 on the amount of redress, when the royal commission recommended $200,000. The bill also limits eligibility to people living in Australia who are Australian citizens. We know, of course, that child migrants were in institutions as well and that abuse of children has occurred in immigration detention. We're concerned that these people will not be able to access redress if they have returned to their country of birth. We're also concerned that the money for counselling provided to survivors will not be adequate—it's only $5,000. Some of these people will require counselling every week, or more than that, for the rest of their life, the damage is so great. The government's also sought to place restrictions on survivors who have a criminal history. I believe that is deeply unfair. We know from the research that childhood sexual abuse leads to criminal behaviour in many cases, so there will be people who are in prison who otherwise wouldn't have been there—the child who was neglected by their parents, who went in as an innocent 10-year-old and came out a criminal. We know that this is the case because the evidence tells us. It is deeply unfair, and we on this side believe that that should be changed.
We know this is a complex task. We're encouraged that some of the states have now come in. We're encouraged that some of the institutions have come in. Of course, there always needs to be a source of last resort, because so many of the institutions are no longer in existence. We need to make sure that people whose childhood torturers no longer exist still have appropriate redress. There are a number of things that we on this side are concerned about, but we will support this bill, the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Bill 2018, because we believe it's timely. The scheme needs to start, and we'll support it.
I am proud to stand in this place today to support the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Bill 2018, even though I will raise some areas of concern. I am in awe of the people who came forward and gave evidence during the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which was a legacy of the Gillard Labor government. Their courage has been nothing short of exceptional, especially when giving evidence was harrowing and very distressing as one is required to relive horrendous experiences. I also have huge respect for the commissioners who sat and listened to extremely distressing evidence from hurt and damaged people for over 444 days, and I thank them for their tireless commitment over five years so that we could see justice done.
I'm going to start my speech with the details of a woman who I have known for nearly 40 years. Sadly, she has passed on now. I will not reveal her identity out of respect for her privacy. Can you imagine growing up in a neglectful family and being taken away by children services on a number of occasions for varying periods of time and put into an institution, separated from your siblings because the boys went to boys' homes and the girls went to girls' homes? Can you imagine not being given the opportunity for an education that you so desperately craved? Can you imagine the only reason that your mother takes you from the home at age 14 is to put you to work and to take your income? Can you imagine, as you get older, being so fearful of going into an aged care facility due to what you remember from being in an institution? Can you imagine what it must be like to carry the secret of sexual abuse to your deathbed for nearly 86 years, because you could not tell a soul? Can you imagine lying on your deathbed and finally telling someone that you were sexually abused as a child in an institution, a place where you were meant to be protected? I cannot imagine living with that secret for nearly 86 years.
Maybe it was because you did not think anyone would care, because you did not think you would be believed, because you were ashamed or because of all of those reasons. I am sure that there are many people out there who have similar experiences and still have not told a soul. I say to those people: I believe you, this parliament believes you and, thanks to the royal commission, others will believe you as well. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has opened the door for people who have lived with this trauma to speak out because, at last, they will be believed. The commission held 57 public hearings, as I said, over 444 days; heard evidence from 1,300 witnesses and also held almost 8,000 private sessions where the commissioners listened to harrowing personal accounts.
It was Labor who was the first to announce support for a national redress scheme when the royal commission released its interim report in 2015. The LNP government did not commit to the redress scheme until 2016. The commissioners outlined a clear vision for a national redress scheme in the final report, Redress and civil litigation, in 2015 and the recommendations were not made lightly. It is for this reason that Labor believes that these recommendations should be implemented faithfully and as much as is humanly possible. Labor thanks the thousands of courageous survivors who shared their stories with the royal commission, as it is because of their bravery that we are discussing a national redress scheme in this place today. Survivors of child sexual abuse have been waiting their whole lives for redress for the horrific crimes that were perpetrated against them as children. For too long now, society has turned a blind eye to their daily struggle and that is nothing short of an immense shame.
However, Labor has a number of concerns with the legislation as it is currently drafted. Labor believes that it is critical that the national redress scheme provides survivors with a genuine opportunity to access justice and that it takes into account and caters for the unique needs of individual survivors. We have referred these bills to a Senate inquiry so that the community can be consulted on the points of difference in these bills and the earlier Commonwealth legislation. In light of the proposed start date of 1 July 2018, this inquiry is due to report before the Senate next sits so that the inquiry should not delay the commencement of the scheme. As a gesture of good faith in our ongoing discussions with the government to resolve Labor's concerns and to acknowledge our longstanding commitment to the establishment of a national redress scheme, Labor will support the bills in this House.
These bills establish a redress scheme that will be managed by the Secretary of the Department of Social Services as the scheme operator. The scheme will provide three elements of redress, with applicants able to receive all or just some of the elements. The elements of redress under the scheme are: a monetary payment, access to counselling and psychological services, and the opportunity to receive an apology from a representative of the institution responsible for the abuse. Those applicants who accept an offer will be required to sign a deed of release, waiving their civil rights against the responsible institution. Applicants will be provided with access to support services and legal services throughout their interactions with the redress scheme, and they will also receive financial advice. To be eligible to receive redress, applicants must have suffered sexual abuse as a child within the scope of the scheme and before the scheme start date.
Labor is concerned about a number of elements of the proposed scheme. Labor believes that we need to make sure that there are enough support services for all survivors who are considering making an application for redress, regardless of where they live or what language they speak, and that attention must be paid to cultural competency.
It is imperative that survivors have sufficient time to decide whether or not to accept an offer of redress. This bill gives applicants only six months to make this decision; however, the royal commission recommended a year. It is important that survivors have sufficient time to consider their decision because they are permitted only one application to the scheme and, for many, this will be an emotional and overwhelming process that should not be rushed.
This bill places an upper limit of $150,000 on the amount of redress that would be payable to any one survivor, but the royal commission recommended a maximum payment of $200,000, a minimum payment of $10,000 and an average payment of $65,000. Accepting an offer will also mean that the survivor will sign away any rights to pursue a claim for compensation through litigation, and that is why the amount of redress under the scheme is critical and it is absolutely essential that sufficient time be allowed to make a decision.
The bill also limits eligibility to the redress scheme to people who are living in Australia or who are Australian citizens. We know that horrific abuse has occurred in institutions that cared for child migrants, and we also know that abuse of children has occurred in immigration detention. We are rightly concerned that these people will not be able to access redress if they have returned to their country of birth. Labor calls on the government to confirm that provision will be made for these groups of survivors to access national redress.
Labor is very concerned that counselling provided to survivors through the redress scheme will not be adequate. The royal commission recommended that recipients of redress be able to access counselling for the rest of their life, but this bill only provides access to state-provided services for the length of the scheme or a payment of up to $5,000 to be put towards counselling. These arrangements are woefully inadequate, and Labor calls on the government to give assurances that this will be addressed. Having worked in the mental health sector for 15 years, I can assure you that, when people have been traumatised to the extent of what these people have suffered, that is simply not enough money or time.
Survivors often consider that the government is responsible for their abuse, and they do not wish to use state or institution-run services. This must be taken into account.
Survivors who are granted redress late in the life of the scheme could also be disadvantaged because they will not be able to access services for the same length of time as survivors who are granted redress early in the life of the scheme. This must also be taken into account in future reviews. The $5,000 payment will not provide adequate access to psychological counselling, as I mentioned, because, at the average rate of $150 an hour for counselling, this equates to a mere 33.3 hours of counselling, and that is simply not sufficient and needs urgent attention.
The government seeks to place restrictions on survivors who themselves have a criminal history from accessing the redress scheme. This is deeply unfair. I have worked in an area where I have come across people who have been incarcerated with significant mental health issues and who had been abused as children. They have found themselves in circumstances that are completely unacceptable as they have gone into their teenage years and into adulthood and those have led them to incarceration. Why should they be punished for something that happened to them as children? It's just not fair.
The bill requires that those who have been sentenced to a term of imprisonment for five years or more have special permission from the scheme operator to access the scheme. This rule ignores strong evidence, as I have said, showing that people with a history of childhood abuse and trauma are more likely to be incarcerated later in life. The first Senate inquiry was inundated with evidence from a variety of witnesses and submitters that this rule is cruel and is likely to increase recidivism.
Labor believes that this policy should be changed. Labor recognises that establishing a national redress scheme is a complex task, and it is very encouraging to see that Victoria, New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, the Northern Territory and Queensland have publicly announced that had they will participate in the scheme. We understand that other jurisdictions are working with the government, and we would want to see universal sign-up to the scheme as soon as humanly possible.
For justice to be truly done, the redress scheme must be national. Labor calls on all states and territories, churches, charities and other institutions to opt into the scheme. We must work together to right the wrongs of years gone by and ensure that these events can and will never be repeated. It is incumbent on all of us in this parliament to work together on further improvement to ensure is that we get the best possible redress scheme for survivors.
I want to make it clear today that a Shorten Labor government will seek to work with the states towards addressing the issues of concern that we have identified. Once we've got the agreement in place—once all states, churches and other institutions have signed up to an agreement—I believe that there may be an opportunity in the future for us to build on this start and do more. I would certainly hope that those people in the situation of living with the dreadful secret that the woman who I mentioned earlier in my speech lived with for 86 years, and felt she could only mention on her deathbed, never, ever happens to another person.
I'm very pleased today to rise to speak on the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Bill 2018 because it gives me an opportunity to speak a little about the bill itself and a little about some of its shortcomings. As the member for Herbert very clearly laid out, while Labor supports the bill and the redress scheme, we think it doesn't go quite far enough in some respects. It also gives me the opportunity of putting on the record in this place the incredible bravery of the people who have participated in the royal commission and my deep gratitude and thanks to so many of those who were involved.
Of course, that starts with our former Prime Minister, my colleague Julia Gillard, for launching the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, and the work that was done by Julia when she was Prime Minister, and by Jenny Macklin, who was the minister responsible at the time, in preparing the groundwork for this royal commission.
The royal commission was conducted in an absolutely exemplary way by those who were entrusted with its running. The work rate was extraordinary: 42,041 calls handled, 25,964 emails and letters received, 8,013 private sessions held and 2,575 referrals, including referrals to the police. The workload was extraordinary, and I do just want to place on the record, once again, how grateful the nation is to the Hon. Justice Peter McClelland AM, who led the royal commission, and to his fellow commissioners: the Hon. Justice Jennifer Coate; Bob Atkinson AO APM; Robert Fitzgerald AM; Helen Milroy; and Andrew Murray, who, of course, is a former colleague of many of us here.
I also want to thank Gail Furness SC, who was the senior counsel assisting the royal commission, as well as all other counsel assisting and the extraordinary staff that worked throughout the operations of the royal commission. I have heard story after story from people who interacted with the royal commission about the compassion, the decency, the thoroughness, the sense of responsibility and the respect that the staff of the royal commission gave to all of those who came forward to tell their stories.
But it is to those people who came forward to tell their stories that my deepest gratitude goes, because I think we really need to acknowledge in this place the extraordinary bravery that goes with survivors stepping forward to give evidence. Some of these people had been lifelong campaigners for the royal commission or something like it, to see a formal response to the abuse they suffered as children. Some who stepped forward had, as the member for Herbert said, kept their stories to themselves for decades—for a whole lifetime, essentially. Both of those approaches take their toll: being a public campaigner takes its toll, and keeping a secret takes its toll. Coming forward to share experiences, for many, was reliving those experiences, and it's a very, very difficult thing to do. So we thank them as a nation, because their bravery means, I hope, that, as the member for Herbert said, no other child has to suffer in the way that these children suffered.
One of the things that were extraordinary about the revelations from the royal commission was how phenomenally widespread this child sexual abuse was and how commonly it occurred in institutions in our suburbs—not in a different place, not in a distant place and not in a distant time but in amongst us and until recently, and indeed, no doubt, still now. In my electorate, there was the Charlton Boys Home in Glebe, which was an institution in which terrible abuse took place. Carl Beauchamp wrote a book about the abuse that he and other boys suffered in the home. The book was called Come Home You Little Bastards, and I launched that book in 2016. Carl spoke about his experience and the experience of his brother and many other boys in this home.
Carl was sent to Charlton Boys Home at the age of 13, having already been sexually assaulted in Yasmar remand home. Carl tells the story of his family, and his family was so very typical of so many families in the inner city at the time when he grew up. He talks about growing up in Redfern and Waterloo and living in Erskineville with his parents—his mother in particular. These boys did nothing wrong. They had the misfortune of being born to parents who couldn't care for them or didn't care for them appropriately. Carl tells the story about the superintendent at the home who was so very violent to the boys, physically and sexually assaulting them, including violent beatings that involved all sorts of injuries—broken bones and compound fractures—freezing showers in the middle of winter, and boys standing there naked being inspected by the staff and having their genitals inspected and fondled. Carl writes about being sent on a camping trip in his Christmas 'holiday', if you could call it that, where he was raped by a man who also raped other boys on that trip.
Essentially, this Charlton Boys Home was run as a paedophile ring. These boys were lent out to paedophiles known to the directors of the home, and when they returned, if they complained, they were brutally punished for complaining. When they reported these crimes, including by demonstrating bleeding, they were not believed and they were further punished. Carl writes about being sexually assaulted on multiple occasions by a man that the home gave him to for weekends at a time. He was one of many boys staying at the home at one time, and he details the abuse that took place at this man's hands. The boys were sent to work in local businesses, often for no money. Carl was sent to work in a pie factory in Kensington where, again, he was sexually assaulted by the owner. Carl wrote in his book about 20 other boys from the home also claiming to have been sexually assaulted or raped by the owner. This wasn't an accident. It wasn't a one off; it was repeated methodical, organised paedophilia with the cover of an institution. And it happened with no recourse and no protection for these little children and a feeling of impunity or invincibility amongst those who were doing the abuse. That is the extraordinary thing about this.
Carl writes about a little boy, Alan, who was six years of age. He was raped by a part-time officer in a tin shed at the back of the home. When little 6-year-old Alan told the home superintendent about the crime, he was abused as a liar and punished for reporting it. What followed were years of sustained humiliation and abuse because of his report, as well as the continued sexual assault. You wonder why children didn't come forward earlier when they saw what happened to the kids who did come forward? It's no wonder. It's a wonder that anybody's ever been brave enough to complain.
I want to pay tribute to Carl and to all of those who came forward through the course of the royal commission: those who made their stories public beforehand when demanding the royal commission, and those who were brave enough to come forward subsequently. I also want to say this one thing about Carl: he's gone on to have the most beautiful life and marriage. He's a father of four, grandfather—last time I checked—of 12 and great grandfather of 17, and he's still married to his first love, Beryl. To find it possible in your heart to find love and stability, to value family and to go on to have a good life after this terrible start just shows the phenomenal strength of Carl. But not everybody made it through. Part of the reason for this Redress Scheme is to acknowledge the lifelong and ongoing damage that so many have faced, and for us to admit to ourselves that not everyone made it. Too many people never made it.
Throughout my electorate there are these landmarks of abuse, such as the former Bidura, the former children's court and remand centre on Glebe Point Road. Even more recently, in one of the music institutes in my electorate, around the corner from where my office was, abuse was taking place. This is living memory. These people who were abused are still young. This isn't ancient history. So many institutions and so many people have been affected right throughout our nation.
Also, I want to take the time I have remaining to say that this this royal commission and the Redress Scheme would not have come about without so many years of hard work and committed lobbying by so many people in our community. Pamella Vernon is a woman who was formerly in my electorate—a former long-time constituent. She's Vice-President of the organisation Alliance for Forgotten Australians. Pamella lobbied me for many years before the royal commission was announced. She grew up in the Central Methodist Mission Dalmar Children's Home, and she has been advocating for forgotten Australians for over 45 years. She can tell you the stories of her family and the affect that what happened to them as children has had on them, and it would break your heart. The Alliance for Forgotten Australians work tirelessly supporting survivors and lobbying for a national redress scheme, and they continue to hold governments to account to demand that governments and institutions that haven't signed up do so.
Many in this chamber and in the Senate know very well of the work of CLAN, the Care Levers Australasia Network, and the phenomenal work of Leonie Sheedy and all of those who have worked with Leonie over the years. We know of the support that CLAN has given survivors of child sexual abuse, helping them come forward, helping them tell their stories and helping them give their evidence, as well as dealing with their retraumatisation after they have given their evidence to the royal commission, despite the fine work of the royal commission. CLAN has been there through all of it. I am delighted to have been asked to be one of their parliamentary patrons. Their resolve and strength is continually inspiring. I visited their National Orphanage Museum, which provides an incredible, permanent monument to the experiences of the 'clannies'. It is a room full of the most poignant reminders through the artefacts that care leavers have given to the museum—artefacts that bear witness to their lives. It was very moving to visit that museum, and I certainly would urge other members of parliament to take the opportunity, if they can.
Finally, as pointed out by CLAN, the abuse that children suffered in institutions was not just sexual abuse; it was also physical abuse and emotional abuse. Over 25 years in Victoria, hundreds of children in orphanages and babies homes, wards of the state, were used in vaccine experiments and studies by doctors, in conjunction with CSL. It was unconscionable behaviour. There have been examinations in the past in this place that detail some of this behaviour. Another constituent of mine, Stephanie, has helped to keep this issue alive and at the forefront of our minds to make sure that the behaviour involved in these despicable acts of using young children, without any ability to consent, without the consent of any parent, continues to be remembered by this parliament and by our Australian community. I think it's vital that the work that Stephanie is doing to remind people of the use of these babies, including wards of the state, for vaccine experiments continues to be examined and that we, as a parliament, investigate the long-term effects. I want to thank the late Anthony Foster and his wife, Christine, who did so much work in bringing these issues to light and taking on the might of the Catholic Church.
Many of my colleagues have detailed the ways in which we differ from the government on this bill. We would like to see changes but, of course, we won't stand in the way of the bill itself, because too many survivors have been waiting too long for the redress that this scheme offers.
I thank the honourable member for Sydney for her moving and touching contribution. The constituents that you represent will take heart from the fact that their story will be recorded and so enshrined in the Hansard from this point forward.
I'm pleased to rise on what is a very sober evening to join the long line of colleagues in this place in speaking on the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Bill 2018. I'm pleased to follow the member for Sydney after her heartfelt contribution. Like the member for Sydney, I would like to pay tribute to Julia Gillard, the former member for Lalor and our former Prime Minister; the member for Jagajaga, whose tears in this place last week spoke for all of us; and the member for Maribyrnong, whose speech I found inspiring and comforting. I also want to pay tribute to all the speakers on this side of the House. There will have been 22 Labor members speak on what is an incredibly important bill. I would also like to thank the member for Swan, the member for Gilmore, the member for Mackellar and the member for Fisher from the benches opposite, whose contributions brought many of us to tears, and also the member for Indi, who, as an Independent, stood in this place to speak of the unspeakable.
Over the last several years, we have shone a light on the unspeakable—the organised sexual abuse of children by trusted institutions, by trusted adults. Through long campaigns this light has been shone. Through our storytellers in film and television and through the royal commission, we've had our eyes opened to the horror as they relayed the circumstances through fiction or, more sadly, through the telling by the individuals who suffered. We have found it hard to watch. We have found it hard to hear. It has been unthinkable. As is our human way, we've tried to understand the motivations, tried to make sense of what makes no sense. We are left knowing only that sexual abuse of children is unfathomable and that monsters exist. What we've learned is that it was organised and more endemic that any of us could have imagined. We're left struggling to understand the monsters among us, left feeling completely inadequate in our response to the victims.
Like many in this place I've read transcripts of the royal commission. I've had the privilege of sitting with the bravest of victims, survivors, and struggled to hear their story. In the words of former Prime Minister Gillard:
The allegations that have come to light recently about child sexual abuse have been heartbreaking. These are insidious, evil acts to which no child should be subject.
Indeed, Julia. I would add: no human response is adequate, no monetary redress is adequate, but they now know they are believed. They now know we will no longer look away. We will look clearly at their lived experiences and share the horror that adults could do these things. It is abominable that trusted institutions could hide what they knew is abominable. That survivors wait for redress, wait for justice, even after a royal commission, is abominable. I pay tribute to the courage of the survivors, to their resilience, to their determination to be heard.
When we think about redress and justice, we need to ponder our own lives. We lived beside the victims as they suffered at the hands of those whom we were taught to respect. In our classrooms sat children who were being and had been dehumanised and subjected to vile abuse. We went about our days oblivious to their pain, to their struggle and to their recovery. Because of the royal commission I have since had the privilege of conveying my admiration personally to one such victim, to sit and quietly listen, and silently be appalled. I think the member for Maribyrnong's words captured what I now know:
Only she will ever know how dark the days were, just how deep the memories run, but it is the same trauma, the same betrayal and the same violation of sacred trust that fills the pages of the royal commission's final report. Thousands of our fellow Australians had their childhoods stolen and their faith in people shattered.
They deserve now the best possible systemic redress, as they suffered systemic abuse. This has been a painful process, unique for every survivor, and they have walked it alone, because nobody can really walk it with them, just as they walked years of abuse alone. They've had to go to dark places in their memories to share their pain with us. They've done so trusting that once the abuse of trust and abuse of their child bodies was exposed, others would not have to suffer the same. The scars will cover our nation: crimes that were ignored, people whose stories were ignored and perpetrators who were sheltered. The way we legislate redress is, therefore, critical. It is another test of trust for us as a society and for us as legislators. I speak for my friend therefore when I say that there was an expectation that, once the survivors lay before us the truth of their lives, we would respect it. The royal commission recommendation should therefore be honoured to the letter.
I am disappointed, as others have been, that this bill fails in some of this regard—that, rather than the recommended sum, a reduced sum has been included; that someone's life, crippled by the brutality of experiences that may have resulted in incarceration and further punishment, could be devalued by exclusion from redress; that dollar limits be put on psychological support for survivors. We asked them to remember; we owe them support, as the royal commission recommended, throughout their life to help them cope with the crime and the memory of it. I am disappointed that justice is still pending in the courts for some of those accused. I'm disappointed that this parliament, the survivors and their families are to be held to a deadline of 1 July and asked to compromise. Wise heads on this side urge us to make that compromise, and we will, so that redress is not further delayed.
I will finish with this. We now must be ever-vigilant in our institutions, in our families and in our neighbourhoods. There are monsters and they will do unspeakable things to innocents. They will seek out opportunities, they will seek out like creatures and they will do untold damage. They will do this while holding powerful, trusted positions, if we allow them to. They will prey on the innocent because of our naivety, because of our own fear to confront, to look closely at the horror. This chapter must not close. We must remember and we must be vigilant.
In 1976, I was still a student at Maitland Marist Brothers, as it was then known. One day that year, year 7 student Patrick Garnham was summonsed over the loudspeakers to report to the principal's office. Brother Nestor was not inviting Patrick in for a chat. It was, of course, about something more sinister than I could have ever imagined as a year 9 student. Another year 9 student that year was David O'Hearn, later Father O'Hearn, who spent some time serving my own local Cessnock Catholic parish. O'Hearn was later found guilty of 44 child sex offences. The ages of the victims ranged from nine to 13. Outrageously, rather than offering contrition, O'Hearn fought his charges all the way to the High Court. For a number of years Father Vince Ryan was my local parish priest. He was later jailed for 14 years for numerous atrocities involving young boys.
On the Anglican side of the Christian divide, Father Peter Rushton turned out to be a serial child sex abuser throughout his 40-year career in service to his church. I would often converse with Peter Rushton at official local events. He was always quite pious in his language. Of course, I was totally oblivious to his real and evil character. Rushton, we later learned, would cut the backs of his victims with a knife, drawing the blood of Christ, while anally raping them.
The now infamous St Alban's Home for Boys, where young boys were basically prostituted out by clergymen, was in my hometown from around 1964. The home was always a bit mysterious to me as a young boy. I do, though, remember feeling sympathy for the mainly Indigenous boys who called it their home. But I could not have imagined or comprehended at that age the evil that took place inside that building. The question becomes: how could we have been so blind to this institutionalised evil?
We all like to think it could never happen again, and to that I say, maybe. The answer can be found in culture and in indoctrination. We were raised not to question the church or its methods. We were told that everything that happened, happened for a reason—it was the will of God. The disintegration of this unchallenged edifice eventually came because of the courage of so many victims, some of whom I know. Today we say we believe them and that we weep with them. We thank them for their courage, because it may have saved another generation from the same fate they suffered. We also thank those who helped them, who helped the victims to tell their stories, to secure justice and, hopefully, to find some closure—journalists like the Newcastle Herald's Joanne McCarthy, who relentlessly pursued the perpetrators, no doubt under enormous pressure to back off, and those like local detective Peter Fox, who paid a heavy personal price for his energetic, determined and robust pursuit of offending clergymen and those who protected them, and there were many.
This bill will not heal the emotional or physical wounds. It's far too late for that, but we do hope it helps. The bill is not perfect—far from it. I do acknowledge how difficult it is to navigate so many challenges, such as the agreement of the states and no doubt plenty of advice from lawyers about the minefields which lie ahead. We all remember that we were told by the lawyers that the Commonwealth shouldn't apologise to the stolen generation, since it would open up all sorts of legal problems for the Commonwealth. Of course, we now know that not to be true. I'm particularly disappointed that those who have been imprisoned for more than five years have been excluded from this redress scheme. I say that because it's more than possible—in fact, very likely—that many of them were victims themselves and possibly their experiences led them to offend in the first place.
I shared my own stories about my school and my local parish for an obvious reason. It's to acknowledge that the Hunter region, very tragically, has been the epicentre of all these crimes that were committed over such a long period of time. That is something of which we are not proud of at all; but we are all very proud of the victims, the way they came forward and those who supported them in their determination to find justice not only for themselves but for many others. I vividly recall calling the then Catholic bishop of Maitland-Newcastle just the day before then Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced she'd be establishing a royal commission. I called him out of courtesy to inform him that later that day I would be issuing a statement calling upon a royal commission. I told him that the situation was now overwhelming and had to be properly and fully acted upon. To his credit, the bishop made no attempt to dissuade me.
Let us never again allow religion to be used as a shield against evil. Let the church and let faith continue to play a positive role and let it continue to do its good things—and it does do good things—but let us never allow it again to shield evil. Let us never again be so naive, ignorant or, worse, complacent. What occurred over many decades, and probably for centuries, is a reflection on all of us. We did not know, but we should have known. That's the truth of it. We should have known. Let us never make that mistake again. Let us be forever mindful that there will always be evil amongst us.
Tonight, indeed, young children will be sexually and physically abused in their own homes around our modern, wealthy nation state. That is a reality we continue to face. It is in no small part up to us here in the national parliament to stop the extent to which that continues to occur. We bear a heavy responsibility and we should exercise our power very, very wisely and very, very diligently. For me, our key tool is education. It is the great circuit-breaker. If we want equality of opportunity and if we want to stop abuse happening behind closed doors, we will not be successful without appropriate and smart investment in our education system. It's up to us. It's up to us to do everything we can to stop this evil continuing in our society, and it's up to us tonight to hope and pray that victims everywhere gain something from the bill which will no doubt pass the House in a little while.
While I'm not listed to speak on the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Bill 2018, I have just listened to a number of addresses in this House. I identify with every one of them—but particularly that of the member for Hunter, who has just spoken and suggested that Hunter was the epicentre of this issue. I put to the member for Hunter that the area is no less guilty than any part of the rest of Australia. There's no epicentre for this. The epicentre for this issue was every situation in every room in every building in every institution and every household where it was perpetrated. That was the epicentre—no particular area; not the Hunter.
We all have experiences which I'm not prepared to describe here, or public interactions which I won't go into. People were sent from one parish to another or away to another country. And too many stood by.
The only thing I would say about this today is this. Even though the royal commission has struck into the heart of the issue and exposed this for what it is, it still hasn't scratched the surface of the horribleness of this across this nation and the amount of abuse that occurred, that is not declared, that is not open, that hasn't reached its fulfilment, that hasn't been exposed. There's no road to take to get to that. I'm not suggesting there is a road to take. But I just want to identify with all of those kids out there who have suffered and who have not told their story; who have not made a commitment; who have not said anything for the whole of their lives, and won't. But they'll go on and live with the struggle, knowing that they're a little different or feeling they're a little different, and working through the days that they do in the full knowledge that they have a future and an opportunity in this great south land. And they'll walk away from their past and they'll stick it in a box and they'll forget it and they'll go on.
So I just repeat, and say to the member for Hunter: no; your area was not the epicentre. The epicentre was for all of us to consider and address in our own areas. Thanks for letting me speak.
The preface and executive summary of the Final Report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse clearly reveal the gravity of the matters that this legislation, the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Bill 2018, seeks to address, and the extent of a problem that, for too long, too many people, too many government departments and too many sectors of society preferred to ignore. What was occurring was an inconvenient truth that society was not prepared to confront. As with the royal commission into banking, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse should have been initiated years earlier. The incidence of child sexual abuse, both within the home and throughout the community, was the subject of regular community conversation. Yet no authority was prepared to act—until the Gillard government did, in November 2012. The royal commission announcement at the time was met with widespread acclamation. Finally, society was responding and doing so with a royal commission. From what I've read of the report of the commission, the commission itself is to be commended—as are the 680 people who, I understand, over the years have worked with the commission—for its work, which appears to be thorough and frank.
Child abuse, regrettably, has been a historical fact of life across all continents, all cultures and all generations. Whether today's world is any better, I don't know. But I have little doubt that, as we debate this legislation, children, in Australia and overseas, continue to be exploited and abused.
I acknowledge and support the growing calls for a royal commission into abuse of people with a disability. They too have stories to tell and are pleading to be heard. The sexual abuse of innocent, vulnerable children would have to be amongst the most abhorrent acts of humanity. To violate children and to destroy their lives while they are in the care of those entrusted to protect them is beyond the comprehension of all decent people. Yet it happened, and it continues to happen all too often.
For the benefit of anyone following this debate, I want to quote excerpts of the commission's preface and executive summary, which I believe provides real context to their report. The preface says:
In 1997, Bringing them home: Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families outlined allegations of institutional sexual abuse of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
The reports of two later major national inquiries, Forgotten Australians: A report on Australians who experienced institutional or out-of-home care as children in 2004 and Protecting vulnerable children: A national challenge in 2005, recommended the establishment of a Royal Commission into the sexual assault of children and young people in institutions after those inquiries heard further allegations of institutional child sexual abuse. These recommendations were not taken up by government at the time.
… … …
Over 16,000 individuals have contacted the Royal Commission and by the time we conclude our work we expect to have heard more than 8,000 personal stories in private sessions. Over 1,000 survivors have provided a written account of their experience …
We now know that countless thousands of children have been sexually abused in many institutions in Australia. In many institutions, multiple abusers have sexually abused children. We must accept that institutional child sexual abuse has been occurring for generations.
… For many, sexual abuse is a trauma they can never escape …
… … …
However, notwithstanding the problems we have identified in institutions, the number of children who are sexually abused in familial or other circumstances far exceeds those who are abused in an institution.
The executive summary goes on to say:
The sexual abuse of a child is a terrible crime. It is the greatest of personal violations … It is one of the most traumatic and potentially damaging experiences and can have lifelong adverse consequences.
Tens of thousands of children have been sexually abused in many Australian institutions. We will never know the true number. Whatever the number, it is a national tragedy, perpetrated over generations within many of our most trusted institutions.
… … …
Our criminal justice system has created many barriers to the successful prosecution of alleged perpetrators. Investigation processes were inadequate and criminal procedures were inappropriate. Our civil law placed impossible barriers on survivors bringing claims against individual abusers and institutions.
It is remarkable that in so many cases the perpetrator of abuse was a member of an organisation that professed to care for children.
I pause for a moment at that point to quote one of the statements from one of the victims who gave evidence to the commission. That person says:
What really gets me is how respected the staff … were in the community and how they used us for fund raising and to promote themselves as doing good works, when all the time we were treated as slaves, beaten and abused, used for their perverted desires. These were terrible years. No love or kindness, no safety or warmth. Always hungry and always frightened.
Just as remarkable was the failure of the leaders of those institutions to respond with compassion to the survivor.
I want to again quote from the introduction of the report. It says:
At the time of writing this report, we had analysed the experiences of 6,875 survivors as told to us in private sessions up until 31 May 2017.
I want to quote these statistics:
From those survivors, where the information was available, we learned that:
… … …
More than one in three survivors (36.0 per cent) said they were sexually abused in pre-1990 out-of-home care—primarily in residential institutions, such as children's homes, missions or reformatories. Just under one-third … said they were abused in a school, and 14.5 per cent said they were abused while involved in religious activities, such as attending a church or seminary. More than one in five survivors … said they were sexually abused in more than one institution.
I quoted those extracts and statistics because they confirm what was widely perceived to be the case and to many people probably came as no surprise. Several issues arise from the commission's preface and introductory comments—in particular, the government's failure to act on previous inquiry recommendations. Now several royal commission recommendations are also being ignored by the government in respect to this legislation. That in itself is of concern. We have failed to respond to previous royal commission recommendations, and we now appear to be doing the same.
That, once abused, victims are scarred for life and can never free themselves of the trauma is also of real concern. I'll come back to that in a moment, as to the matter of a person who is currently in jail and the government's proposal that someone who is facing a sentence of more than five years should be treated differently. But what concerns me the most, perhaps, as to the royal commission's findings, is that most of the abuse still occurs within familial places, including in the victim's own home. My question is: what is being done about that? Again, I see very little.
It's also of concern that it's still very difficult for a victim to get justice. Indeed, the failure of civic and institutional leaders to protect their victims has been, and continues to be, of concern. For many institutional leaders, it seems that their priority was to protect the reputation of their institution. Law enforcement and judicial systems were also ill equipped to deal with allegations.
The case of St Ann's Special School in South Australia is a prime example of those failures. Brian Perkins was employed as a bus driver at St Ann's Special School between 1986 and 1991. At the time he was employed, he had a long history of sexual and other crime convictions. South Australian police received information about sexual offences against children at St Ann's school perpetrated by Perkins in 1991. It took 12 years to bring Perkins to justice and subsequently have him imprisoned.
Labor leader Bill Shorten has outlined Labor's response to this legislation, as has the member for Jagajaga—who, I might add, has been a key instigator of the process that has brought us to this point today, and I commend her for that. I therefore only comment on one particular matter relating to the government's response, and that is the matter relating to the qualified ability of victims who are serving more than five years in prison to access redress. These are people who, very likely, are imprisoned as a consequence of the abuse perpetrated upon them. To deny them redress will be a penalty additional to that applied and intended by the sentencing court at the time they were sentenced, and thereby it will add to the victimisation that they have already endured. It seems to me that it is perpetrating one injustice on top of another, and I would urge the government to reconsider that recommendation in particular.
Other members of the Labor opposition have expressed concerns with respect to a range of other recommendations where the government is deviating from the recommendations of the royal commission. I support each and every one of the comments in respect of those other recommendations and, in particular, the time frame being allowed with respect to the making of claims. To say to people who have endured the suffering that they have for most of their lives, 'We want you to act within a six-month period'—or whatever other time frame they are given—'otherwise you will lose whatever right you have,' again, is an injustice. It seems to me that it shouldn't be a matter of time frames. I thought that the member for Parramatta put it beautifully when she made the point that the time frame should rest entirely with the victims.
I close with these comments. We cannot change what has happened in the past. We cannot undo the grave offences that have been committed against so many people over so many years. And, as others have said, for so many, even this report and these recommendations are too late. However, I would hope that as a result of the royal commission's work, these findings will bring about a culture change throughout society; a culture change throughout government and non-government sectors; and a culture change in our law enforcement and judicial bodies. This is so that the commission's recommendations are not just words on paper in the 17 volumes that I understand is the total amount of the report they'll be presenting but that the commission's findings become a turning point in how society sees its responsibility for the protection of the most vulnerable amongst us. It is a change for those to come that we can do something about, and I hope that at the very least the commission's work will lead to that change so that in the future there will not be the level of abuse that we know has occurred to date.
I rise to speak on the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Bill 2018.
I too commend the member for that incredibly powerful speech. The speeches on this issue have been powerful, because this does cut at the core of our morality and of our values, and also to our shame. I do commend the member. I commend the Leader of the Opposition and I commend colleagues, both those who are here currently and those who are no longer here, for the work that they've done in realising this royal commission and finally getting some redress for those who were affected over decades and decades—thousands and thousands of children right across this country. It's an absolute disgrace. It's a great blight on our nation and it is an absolute shame for our nation, and I thank my colleagues, both those who aren't with us any more and those who are with us now, for actually realising this royal commission.
I want to go over some of the areas of concern that Labor has with this bill and then discuss an issue that the Canberra community has been facing here for a number of years—for a number of decades—at Marist College in Canberra. In the areas of concern, we've actually outlined that Labor has been advocating for the recommendations of the royal commission to be implemented as written. We do have a number of concerns in terms of the residency requirement; the access to counselling and psychological care; the redress and the length of period that it's open for; the imprisonment issue—and that has been discussed at length by colleagues and also in the media; and the legal assistance that's provided in the redress scheme. Labor has a number of areas of concern and they have been prosecuted at length by my colleagues.
As I said, today I want to talk about Marist College. This is an issue that has rocked the Canberra community in recent years. The sexual abuse of students at Marist College was happening in the seventies, eighties and nineties and has affected many in the Canberra community, rocked the faith of many in the Canberra community and rocked the trust in institutions—the educational institution that is Marist and also the Catholic institution as a church. In the royal commission documents, there's a very lengthy case study, No. 13, of just what's happened with Marist College, one of many, many case studies. It is more than 100 pages long. The royal commission exposed that Maris College in Canberra was the most notorious Catholic school in Australia for child sexual abuse claims. It found that 63 claims of child sexual abuse were made against the school, but the true figure is believed to be much larger—well over 100. But who knows? The school was attended by a number of my friends. A piece was written last year in February, and I want to read this piece because it is incredibly powerful:
About 20 boys crammed into the small hotel room in Wellington and the mood was sombre.
The night before an incident had profoundly shaken the group.
One of the players had been called to a Marist brother's room on the pretence of treating an injury from that day's game.
The coach tried to sexually assault the boy. He fled, told his closest friend, and word had spread quickly through the touring party.
The boys, aged between 16 and 18, called a meeting. At its end they passed a resolution: the coach was to be banned from the change room, when the team returned to Canberra, the brother was to leave the school and the Marists were called on to guarantee that he would never teach again.
The shocking incident caused one 17-year-old to question a commitment. At school's end he had resolved to leave for Sydney, to train as a priest.
So he sought the counsel of another brother travelling with the group, a popular man who ran a movie club at the school.
When the boy confided his fears about the act of a man who professed to be a model of faith he got an unexpected response.
The brother's face darkened with fury: why would your vocation be affected by the actions of one man? The boy felt ashamed of his doubts.
… … …
Other reports emerged about sexual assaults at Marist Brothers in Canberra in the 1970s and 80s. Among the accused one name stood out …
This is a name that is very well known in Canberra: Brother Kostka.
In 1978, Brother Kostka had reacted with fury when confronted with the sins of his confrere because the questions of a child shone a light into his black conscience.
… … …
These shards of memory have been revived by the evidence given to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The breadth of the abuse is astounding, the damage to the standing of the Church permanent and the failure of its bishops unforgivable.
And one thing is clear. In 1978 a group of Catholic schoolboys was confronted with evil and called to make a moral decision.
They did so in the light of the best teachings of their faith. The vote had been unanimous. They demanded justice for their friend and that the threat to other boys be removed, forever.
That piece was penned by my husband, who was part of that rugby team that toured New Zealand and was part of that group who so bravely, as young men, stood up against the system to call out wrong, to call out evil, and were ignored. How many times have we heard of this instance being called out through these discussions? How many times did we hear similar stories right throughout the country, throughout the decades, of instances where people have called out this abominable behaviour, this abuse, and they've been ignored?
My husband was part of that group and he penned that piece. I know that his friends were also victims of sexual abuse at that school. I know that his friends of friends were also victims of sexual abuse at the school. The fact that it went on for so long and it was ignored for so long is a great shame for Marist College and for the Canberra community. There are so many young lives who were victims of this sexual abuse, here in our community and here in our nation's capital.
The royal commission, in regard to this particular report on Brothers Kostka Chute and Gregory Sutton, found that systemic issues included:
It's just endless in terms of the lack of record keeping and the lack of monitoring and supervision. The issues included:
As was mentioned, it wasn't just one child. We are talking about a group of young boys here who had the courage and who had the moral compass to be able to stand up against that. There were so many systemic issues that were identified in the royal commission investigation into the sexual abuse allegations from Brothers Kostka and Gregory. There are not too many people who went to Marist, particularly in the seventies, who didn't know of someone who had sexually abused or who were themselves sexually abused. I know so many of the friends of my husband were.
I want to take this opportunity to thank and acknowledge the work that's been done and the courage and commitment that's been shown by Bravehearts ambassador Damian De Marco in calling this out. He was a 'favourite' of Brother Kostka's. I also thank John Ellis who took this issue—not necessarily from Marist—to court and set a legal precedent there. There are many, many others who have been incredibly brave in term of setting precedents and many others who have spoken out who have been ignored. I want to commend, acknowledge and thank them for their commitment and their courage. It must have been incredibly lonely for them for so long. They would have doubted themselves. We know that many of them just found it all too heard to bear and decided to end it. They would have doubted themselves, they would have doubted their sanity, they would have doubted their faith and they would have doubted their trust in the system. It must have been so incredibly lonely for them.
I do want to acknowledge all those hundreds, thousands of Australians who've been through this and acknowledge the fact that it would have been so lonely for you. There would have been so many nights and so many days, staring down so many demons for so many decades. I acknowledge you and I commend you for your courage and bravery and for hanging in there, particularly Damian De Marco here—who was, as I said, Brother Kostka's absolute 'favourite'—who has pursued this issue for so long. The fact that the royal commission documents showed that Marist College here in our Canberra was the most notorious Catholic school, in terms of Australia, for sexual abuse claims has really rocked the community. There are those 63 claims, as I said. There are people who suggest there are others—hundreds more, possibly, who knows? Many of them are friends of my husband and many of them are friends of friends of my husband.
I also want to take this opportunity to thank Marist College for the considerable effort they've put in, in terms of acknowledging what happened; apologising for the sexual abuse by staff in the past; acknowledging the many innocent victims, the survivors, their families and the current community of students, staff and parents; acknowledging that sexual and physical abuse occurred is a source of shame to us all and apologising that we failed in our response, both at the time and afterwards. They've had a number of liturgy services and other ceremonies to acknowledge this and try to at least come to some sort of resolution in terms of the fact that this has brought such shame on the community, on the Marist College community and the Catholic Church.
My late mother-in-law was a very committed Catholic. She was at one stage president of the Catholic Women's League. She was a devout Catholic, a devout woman and placed great store in her Catholic faith. All I can say is thank God the gorgeous Mary Rose Uhlmann was not alive when reports like this came out. She'd heard murmurings and she was cut to the core; she just could not believe that the Catholic Church could do this, that the Catholic educational institutions could do this to their beautiful young people. The findings of the royal commission would have completely rocked her to her core. I am just so glad in many ways that she wasn't here to hear this. She was a teacher in a number of Catholic schools here in Canberra, in the primary schools. She was a much-loved teacher at St John Vianney's and other schools. I'm so glad in so many ways that the beautiful and much-missed Mary Rose Uhlmann wasn't here to see the results of this appalling royal commission and these appalling decades of abuse.
In closing, I want to quote from Chris's article again because it is incredibly powerful and does give just one instance of young people actually being confronted with evil and making a moral decision:
In that room, on that day, those boys showed more moral courage and were better disciples than the princes of their Church. That is a triumph, and a tragedy.
I'm very pleased to follow the member for Canberra and other colleagues in this place to speak on the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Bill 2018 and a cognate bill. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was highly significant to many constituents in my electorate. These individuals have struggled for decades to overcome the terrible memories, ongoing health problems, interrupted education and shattered trust resulting from institutional childhood abuse. One of those constituents is Wendy Dyckhoff.
I've mentioned Wendy in this place a few times before and I'm always pleased to acknowledge her again. Wendy herself was the victim of awful childhood abuse while growing up in a number of different institutions in Victoria. She's now a very hardworking advocate for the local forgotten Australians. She's a wonderful woman who always gives to us and to our community, despite her own personal grief and experiences. On behalf of those forgotten Australians in my electorate, almost all who suffered varying degrees of child sexual abuse, I acknowledge the important work that the royal commission has undertaken. I acknowledge how valuable the process has been by giving time, space and serious attention to the many horrific stories that these victims of abuse and their families have been able to tell.
I know that a forum with the status of a royal commission, in providing survivors with the chance to give their own account and, most importantly, be properly listened to and believed, has been of great healing benefit. Wendy and others have spoken to me in detail about the importance of this healing process. However, the healing process has not been completed and cannot be without the timely finalisation of an adequate national redress scheme. Sadly, for many, the healing can never be completed, including of course for those who have passed away, many much too early in their tragic lives. For others, however, it is vital that the work of the royal commission is given its full effect by paying heed to its recommendations. As the member for Jagajaga stated last week:
The Commissioners had spent five years considering their recommendations and they must not be ignored.
Those people who have already suffered such terrible betrayal of trust by those in positions of power are relying on us, the federal parliament, to ensure that they can now trust again. We have heard them and we will honour them.
A national redress scheme must be established as a vital step along the path to healing. No amount of money can make up for the pain and trauma experienced by survivors, nor can it bring back the years of lost education, replace lost health or rebuild shattered relationships. But it can make a difference to those who face real financial difficulty as they age, largely as a result of their past experiences. Wendy Dyckhoff has explained to me the high risk that ageing, forgotten Australians face of homelessness, serious health problems and lack of support networks as a result of having lost so many family links. In light of this, financial redress cannot be dismissed as insignificant and we must be as generous as possible.
Beyond that, redress is a vital process for our nation to acknowledge the hurt, distress and trauma that has been suffered. Along with redress payments, it's important that survivors have the opportunity to receive a direct personal response from the relevant institution and, of course, we need to ensure that survivors are able to receive appropriate and adequate support services, as well, including ongoing counselling.
I'm deeply concerned that the provisions of this bill will not be adequate in this regard. I'm also concerned about the limits that will be placed on those who have been sentenced to a term of imprisonment of five years or more. We know that the links between childhood abuse, severe childhood disadvantage generally and the likelihood of incarceration are well documented. In fact, the whole cycle of poverty, disadvantage and often a self-perpetuating relationship with the justice system are matters that warrant some serious attention, but that debate is for another time, and I acknowledge that.
I want to thank Wendy Dyckhoff and her fellow local activists for their passionate advocacy for the right to tell their stories. Wendy herself went back to school, at Kangan TAFE, to learn how to write well, specifically so that she could tell her story and encourage others to do the same. She offered enormous support and encouragement to all those she knew in making submissions to the royal commission and appearing before it. It is on Wendy's behalf, along with all the other forgotten Australians of Calwell who have put their faith in the royal commission and their hopes in a National Redress Scheme, that I urge the government to address Labor's concerns about this bill. So many people have invested their hopes in this outcome. It is important that we do not let them down. It is important that we get the redress scheme right.
I thank all members for their contributions on this bill. As I have said, this bill will establish a National Redress Scheme for survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. It will create a simple and supportive redress scheme. The establishment of the scheme is an acknowledgement by the Australian government and participating governments that sexual abuse suffered by children in institutional settings was wrong. It was a betrayal of trust that should never have happened. The scheme recognises the suffering survivors have experienced and accepts that these events occurred and that institutions must take responsibility for this abuse. I commend the governments of New South Wales, Victoria, the Australian Capital Territory, Queensland, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and South Australia for signing up to the scheme and I acknowledge the consultative way that the Western Australian government has cooperated, and I look forward to their joining the scheme.
As I have told the House, the scheme will provide survivors with three elements of redress, comprising a monetary payment of up to $150,000, access to counselling or psychological services, and a direct personal response from the institutions responsible. The scheme will adopt a survivor-focused approach. Access to redress will be simple and support will be available throughout the application and acceptance process. The scheme is not intended to replace criminal law or common law avenues to seek justice; it is intended to provide a survivor with the means to access a sense of justice through monetary redress and through restorative supports. It is intended to be faster, simpler and less distressing for survivors and provide governments and institutions with the means to deliver justice to their survivors.
We consulted with a broad range of stakeholders in developing the scheme and this bill. The bill aligns with the views of the independent advisory council on redress, which included many survivor groups, as well as the views of other jurisdictions and nongovernment institutions. I've listened to members' speeches and want to make clear some elements of the scheme that they have raised. First, a maximum redress payment of $150,000 will be available under the national redress scheme, a position which is supported by states, territories and nongovernment institutions. This amount balances the need to provide a payment that provides a tangible means of recognising the wrongs suffered by survivors, while encouraging institutions to opt into the scheme. In addition, the average payment under the national scheme is expected to be around $11,000 higher than under that proposed by the royal commission.
Second, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse recommended that the scheme should adjust relevant prior payments for inflation. Relevant prior payments are payments made by a responsible institution in recognition of the harm caused by abuse for which the institution is responsible or in recognition of such abuse itself. The scheme will not deduct payments that were made to cover expenses of medical or dental treatment, or payments to cover any other expenses. The purpose of adjusting relevant prior payments for inflation is to recognise that some institutions have made efforts to do the right thing in the past, and to account for changes in the value of money over time. This is different to attempting to take into account any growth in the amount of the prior payment due to interest or investment. The scheme will calculate how much a prior payment would be worth in today's dollars if it were paid today, not how much the payment would be worth if it had been put into a bank account from when it was paid until today.
Third, the current legislation enables applications from child migrants who are now Australian citizens or permanent residents, or who will be at the time of application. With regard to the eligibility of survivors who do not live in Australia, only people who are Australian citizens or permanent residents will be able to apply for redress. This is in line with other government entitlements. Noncitizens and non-permanent residents will be ineligible in order to ensure the integrity of the scheme.
Fourth, through the development of the national bill with other jurisdictions, it became apparent that it would be difficult to ensure appropriate redress support services for all survivors in prison. As a result, the national bill states that people who are in jail will not be able to apply to the scheme while they remain in custody; however, they will be able to apply to the scheme when they are released. A person who has been released on parole or licence is not in jail. The national bill also allows the scheme operator discretion to accept an application from a person in jail if there are exceptional circumstances warranting the application. Such circumstances might include when a survivor is unlikely to be released from prison before the end of the scheme.
Finally, the scheme will provide access to counselling and psychological care to eligible survivors as one of the three components of redress. This will be in addition to Medicare funded services, which continue to be available to survivors, and the significant counselling and family support services funded by the government. Survivors will access counselling and psychological care in one of two ways: where a jurisdiction has elected to provide a lump sum payment, the survivor will receive a tiered lump sum payment of up to $5,000 based on the severity of the sexual abuse they have experienced; where a jurisdiction has elected to provide state based counselling services, survivors will be referred through a state or territory government to appropriate counselling services. Survivors will be able to access counselling in one of these two ways based on the jurisdiction they reside in at the time of submitting an application for redress. If an eligible survivor resides overseas, they will receive a lump sum payment.
The scheme paves the way for all governments and institutions to take responsibility and provide long-awaited redress to survivors who suffered sexual abuse as children while in their care. It is time to acknowledge the wrongs of the past and provide survivors the recognition they deserve. Survivors of abuse have had a long wait for this. It is time we in parliament delivered for them. We can do this by providing them redress by 1 July this year.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.